[This is Part 2 of my cut & paste Kindle highlights of the wonderful book Fooled by Randomness, by Nassim Taleb]
Observational data is important to science, and Fooled By Randomness by Nassim Taleb cautions us that we should not take scientific data so seriously. We live in a random world, and data can only get us so far in life.
To understand the white swan problem, let’s start with the basics (actually, we’ll end with the basics too, but you know what I mean):
At some point in history, a biologist of the binocular sort (other biologists are of the microscope sort, right?) decided to prove once and for all that “all swans are white”.
He started proving “all swans are white” by observing lots of swans, and documenting his findings. The first year, he observed 1,000 swans, and all of them were white. Even with a thousand observations under his belt, he was not ready to publish his results in “Nature”, as more data was needed. So, he observes another 3,000 swans the next year. Same result–all the swans were white. The question is, how much data must this biologist collect before proving that all swans are white? And, as this biologist collects more and more data, how much more confident should we be in the theory? Will another 10,000 observations of white swans make us pretty sure that all swans are white? How about another 100,000 observations of white swans? Continue Reading